Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
< <
I N D I E S > >
last update 12.Dec.12
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Boxing Day
dir-scr Bernard Rose
prd Luc Roeg, Naomi Despres
with Danny Huston, Matthew Jacobs, Julie Marcus, David Pressler, Lynne Renee, Morgan Walsh, Edie Dakota, Lisa Enos, Jo Farkas
jacobs and huston
release UK 21.Dec.12
12/US 1h34

See also:
Ivansxtc (2001) The Kreutzer Sonata (2008)
boxing day After Ivansxtc and The Kreutzer Sonata, this is the third collaboration between Huston and writer-director Rose, adapting Tolstoy novellas into modern-day morality tales. Based on Master and Man, this is a story about a boss and a worker whose tables are turned. It's clever but not very easy to watch.

Basil (Huston) is a Los Angeles businessman struggling against terrible debts. To make some quick cash, he abandons his family right after Christmas and flies to Denver to buy up foreclosed properties for a quick resale. There he hires local chauffeur Nick (Jacobs) to drive him around, and their interaction is bitterly sarcastic, as neither has much respect for the other. As they head up into the Rockies, night begins to fall and they get lost, trapped together on an icy rural road.

The themes are clear even if the film never simplifies them. Essentially, this is a collision between rich and poor, the 99 and 1 percent who not only don't understand each other but can only barely conceal their loathing. Basil laughs derisively at Nick's inability to use his new car's sat-nav, while Nick finds Basil's callous privilege sickening. Even so, they find moments of harmony along the way, as well as a sort of friendly detente.

Both actors are superb, throwing jaggedly pointed lines like offhanded asides. There's continual underlying humour in tiny expressions or quiet laughter, although it's all very bitter. Intriguingly, both men are likeable even though it's only possible to take one man's side, which of course will depend on the perspective of the audience member. And there isn't any attempt to preach at us: nothing here will ever make us change our minds. Like them, we never see the world through the other guy's eyes.

It's daring of Rose to allow this much ambiguity to infuse the film, especially with the deeply ironic plot turns and pointed side characters. This might partially explain why the movie feels so frustratingly unsatisfying as it meanders through seemingly random scenes that seem like padding to what's essentially about 30 minutes of actual material. But the interaction between these two men is so well-played that we can't help but see ourselves in them. And it's nicely shot with a terrific sense of the beauty and harshness of nature, which frankly doesn't care what they believe.

15 themes, language
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same
dir-scr Madeleine Olnek
prd Madeleine Olnek, Laura Terruso
with Lisa Haas, Susan Ziegler, Jackie Monahan, Cynthia Kaplan, Alex Karpovsky, Dennis Davis, Rae C Wright, Jay Irvin, David Lee Nelson, Brent Dixon, Clay Drinko, Kimberly Flynn
haas and ziegler release US 6.Jan.12,
UK 26.Nov.12
11/US 1h16

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same Dryly hilarious dialog makes this micro-budget sci-fi pastiche both laugh-out-loud funny and eerily astute in the way it observes both the online dating scene and the emotional fallout of relationships. It also shows what a promising filmmaker can do with very little cash.

Jane (Haas) has a fantasy about being picked-up by an alien long before Zoinx (Ziegler) walks into her Manhattan stationery shop. Because the emotions surrounding love are depleting the ozone on their planet, Zoinx has been sent to Earth to have her heart broken. But Zoinx and Jane find an unexpected connection, as do Zoinx's companions Zylar and Barr (Monahan and Kaplan). Meanwhile, two men in black (Karpovsky and Davis) are watching them, and during the stakeout they reveal surprising truths about each other, sending their partnership in a very strange direction.

The clever script manages to be deeply silly and warmly endearing at the same time. It also touches on big issues like global warming with a knowing wink ("Love transcends a person and destroys the ozone") as it treads the minefield of internet matchmaking and relationship issues. So as Zoinx and Jane beguin to build a lasting romance, and Zylar and Barr become inseparable, the question begins to loom: can any of them go home again?

Filmmaker Olnek shoots in black and white using retro titles, music and effects, including aliens who speak in a kind of backwards gibberish and spaceships made out of pie tins. Packed with amusing gags and hysterically funny one-liners, the cast members make the most of conversations that drift in cleverly absurd directions. Along the way, the aliens' shrill monotone honesty provides a sharp ongoing commentary, from the torment of the desert carrousel to crying during the lottery because they wouldn't let the other numbers out.

Sometimes all of this feels like a sketch comedy stretched to feature length. There are heavy echoes of SNL's Coneheads as these goofy aliens completely fail to blend in with human society. And what's most surprising is how the various storylines remain blissfully silly even as they find some understated emotional resonance. As the rookie agent says, "Sometimes the most important thing is to learn something."

12 themes, innuendo, language
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Life Just Is
dir-scr Alex Barrett
prd Tom Stuart
with Will De Meo, Jack Gordon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Fiona Ryan, Jayne Wisener, Paul Nicholls, Rachel Bright, Jason Croot, Vanessa Govinden, Andrew Hawley, Lachlan McCall, Joshua Osei
ryan and martello-white release UK 7.Dec.12
12/UK 1h42

edinburgh film fest
Life Just Is Filmmaker Barrett ambitiously tackles some enormous themes in this very low-budget debut. We may be distracted by the simplistic sets and inexperienced writing and acting, but if we pay attention, there's plenty going on to engage us as five London friends in their early 20s grapple with their mortality, faith and purpose.

Two unlikely sets of London housemates are shocked when someone their age dies of a terminal illness. This causes each of them to begin soul-searching in one way or another. The philosophical Pete (Gordon) shares a house with the shy David (De Meo) and self-absorbed good-time boy Tom (Martello-White), who flirts half-heartedly with Claire (Ryan) as if they have no intention of ever following through on it. Her flatmate Jay (Wisener) brings her older boyfriend Bobby (Nicholls) into the group, but he's like an alien because he actually has a career.

Nothing really happens over the week between the funeral and Jay's birthday party. Each character is a specific type, which makes their friendships extremely dubious. It's as if a bunch of characteristics were divvied out, like a mopey, existential variation on Friends. We can't really imagine them hanging out together like this, and the yawning silences between them are more believable than the overwritten monologues.

Even so, the core question is challenging: when do we have to stop looking to the future for our identity and realise that we are already who we are? Yes, this means that the film is packed with conversation, often awkward and strained as these characters wallow in their "pre-life crisis". With the most experience, Nicholls is the film's best actor, but then his character is almost tangential. Of the leading cast, Martello-White at least has the spark of youthful energy that's otherwise lacking.

Technically, the film is sometimes difficult to watch, as most scenes are indulgent long takes of people sitting around barren rooms trying to talk, or just walking or reading on their own. The limited settings make the film feel stagey. And while Barrett may shy away from gritty reality and the potent force of sexuality, he at least gets us thinking about things in ways few films ever do. Indeed, the central point is that life is about the search, not about knowing the answers.

15 themes, language
24.Jun.12 eiff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir-prd Bryn Higgins
scr Joe Fisher
with Christian Cooke, Harry McEntire, Madeleine Clark, Melanie Hill, James Bolam, Christine Anderson, Steven Hillman
cooke and mcentire release US Jan.12 sff,
UK 15.Dec.12
12/UK 1h32

edinburgh film fest
Unconditional This engaging, increasingly creepy British drama gets under the skin as it explores issues of attraction and identity in some pretty challenging ways. It also marks Higgins as a filmmaker to watch, and gives rising star McEntire a breakout role that's unforgettable.

In Newcastle, 16-year-old twins Kristen and Owen (Clark and McEntire) care for their disabled mum (Hill), indulging in blackly funny fantasies of ways to escape. And when they meet charismatic loan shark Liam (Cooke), both Kristen and Owen can't help but fall for him. Liam latches onto Owen with one condition: when they go out, Owen has to dress up as a girl and let Liam call him Kristen. Since this is his first romance, Owen goes along with it. But he starts to wonder if Liam is more than a little unhinged.

Far too interested in both Kristen and Owen, Liam oozes slippery, predatory sexuality. And Cooke plays it perfectly, letting us see that the flashy bravado is superficial, hiding the fragile young man he really is. If anything, this makes him even more attractive, so we can see why both twins are drawn to him. As we see him in a variety of settings, including at his oblivious parents' home, his instability becomes apparent through delicate acting and directing that chills us to the bone.

Opposite him, McEntire dives into the role without hesitation, creating a believable teen whose desire sits at odds with his intelligence. Owen knows something is deeply wrong, and we can see him struggling inside. Meanwhile, he's thrown into a series of astonishing situations, including that visit to Liam's parents, as well as a climactic stay in a B&B honeymoon suite. Since Owen's journey is the central point of the film, Clark is kind of left on the sidelines, but her scenes bristle with the same longing and wit.

As the characters grapple with power, sexuality, gender and desire, writer-director Higgin's darkly complex approach becomes hauntingly engaging. Some of the scripting is pushy and melodramatic, and it kind of wallows in Owen's struggle to decide what he wants. We can understand the attraction, but we want to scream at him to get out of there! So as events twist in unexpected directions, the naturalistic, internalised performances draw us into the situation, leaving us shaken and perhaps a little exhilarated.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
23.Jun.12 eiff
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< < I N D I E S > >

© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall